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Age of Apocalypse

Thursday Q&A: David Lapham

The Age of Apocalypse writer talks the full-scale return of this alternate world and its surprising heroes

By Chris Arrant

Writer David Lapham has taken on the likes of Wolverine, Daredevil and The Punisher, and ventured into the violent territory of Marvel’s MAX line on more than one occasion, but his new assignment takes him to a whole new universe. Set to debut on March 7, the all-new AGE OF APOCALYPSE series sees Lapham and artist Roberto De La Torre return to a world where the last remnants of humanity struggle against the oppressive mutant race. 

Originally introduced in an epic crossover event, the Age of Apocalypse returned recently as one of the key battlegrounds in UNCANNY X-FORCE during the Dark Angel Saga. UNCANNY X-FORCE #19.1 gave us an update on recent events in the mutant-dominated world, with humans at the brink of extinction. In AGE OF APOCALYPSE, William Stryker, going by the call sign Prophet, leads a gallery of mutant enemies who stand as this world’s heroes, fighting off against a dark version of Wolverine imbued with the powers of Apocalypse and calling himself Weapon Omega.

Marvel.com spoke with Lapham about this skewed take on the Marvel Universe, its heroes, villains and those who skirt the lines of good and evil. 

AGE OF APOCALYPSE #1 cover by Humberto Ramos

Marvel.com: AGE OF APOCALYPSE spins out of UNCANNY X-FORCE, with #19.1 of that title acting as a prequel of sorts to the new series. Describe how you worked with Rick Remender to plan this new series?

David Lapham: Rick and editor Jody LeHeup had worked in the Age of Apocalypse Universe [into] UNCANNY X-FORCE, so they brought the whole issue back up. Rick shaped how the world translated into the now, without all the big super hero wars. Out of that Jody came up with the brilliant concept to do a book where the script was flipped. Where the humans are hated and hunted and a team of humans must fight against a world of mutants. Around this time I had called Jody because I had heard he really knew not just the mainstream comics but the indie world as well and how to marry those two worlds into great books. In other words, he was a guy I knew would get me. 

We talked for a while about some concepts and a few days later he sent me his initial one sheet for the AGE OF APOCALYPSE concept. I loved it, and immediately started creating characters, set ups, etc. And we were off like a rocket. The concept is such a fertile ground for creating. When we had some basis, Jody, Rick, and I got on the phone to make it all come together and plan the kick off event in issue UNCANNY X-FORCE #19.1. It was Rick’s concept what happens there and he gave us Jean Grey and Sabretooth out of that to add to our book. Rick amazed me with what he was able to pull off in a single issue. Several major events happen in there. For my part, I just made sure he had the histories and personalities of the Age of Apocalypse characters that fans were going to get their first taste of. The way Rick ends UNCANNY X-FORCE #19.1 was perfect for what we wanted to do and AGE OF APOCALYPSE #1 literally takes place minutes after the end. It could be the next page.

Marvel.com: In the final pages of UNCANNY X-FORCE #19.1 we saw Weapon Omega wipe out the last major human city, so what's left to fight for if you're on the side of humanity? 

AGE OF APOCALYPSE #1 preview art by Roberto De La Torre

David Lapham: Yeah, that’s what I was talking about. We pick up right after that event with our very few survivors escaping. Humanity is now virtually extinct but for scattered pockets and individuals the world over. Prophet and Bolivar Trask—two of our main characters—have pulled together a few hundred people in a secret base called Humanities Last Stand while they try and figure out what’s left and where they go from here. But humanity is still around and there to fight for. They’re aided by the change in the world itself that happens when humanity is believed gone, and that is that mutants are going to begin their struggle to reshape their world. Things cease to be as black and white as before. Prophet plans to use that chaos to figure a way to carve out a place for humanity. Still that process would be awfully sped up if Weapon Omega weren’t there as the big overlord to constantly be putting the boot down. So the first order of business might be the tallest order of all. How do you kill a virtual god?

Marvel.com: You mentioned Prophet and Bolivar Trask, but who else makes up on the team. 

AGE OF APOCALYPSE #1 preview art by Roberto De La Torre

David Lapham: The lead characters are a five man group of human agents called The X-Terminated. All of them are human and have no powers beyond their supreme, skill, smarts, and weapons. They’re led by William Stryker, aka Prophet, who is, besides being an unparalleled hand to hand combatant, also a one man C.I.A. Prophet knows more than anyone that the only way to combat an entire race of beings more powerful than yourself, is to be smarter, more prepared, and more informed. Prophet is that guy who knows what’s going to happen before it happens because he’s that sharp and makes himself that informed. His team consists of Donald Pierce, aka Goodnight, who is a bit of an outsider and the team’s inside man at the Hellfire Club, which plays a major part in the back door dealings and political machinations of the Age of Apocalypse world. Graydon Creed, aka Horror Show, is the team’s heavy and weapons expert. He is the most mentally messed-up character and struggles with a lot being the human son of two mutants, Sabretooth and Mystique. Still, when it’s show time he’s got the team’s back and can kick major ass. Zora Risman, aka Deadeye, is the sister of regular Marvel Universe villain Matthew Risman, a sniper and leader of the Purity Brigade. Zora is also an uncanny shot. She’s sexy, hard edged, and completely committed. Lastly we have Franny Trask, aka Fiend, knife expert and illegitimate daughter of Bolivar Trask. Rob’s designs of these guys are amazing, by the way; they look and feel like a team that’s been around for decades. I think readers will just fall right in to this bunch. At least I hope so. I love writing them and would hate to be just doing it alone in my basement…

To this group, as I mentioned earlier, we’re picking up Jean Grey and Sabretooth, two mutants who are left in uniquely bad shape by events born out of UNCANNY X-FORCE #19.1. 

AGE OF APOCALYPSE #1 preview art by Roberto De La Torre

Marvel.com: Although born as mutants, the events of UNCANNY X-FORCE have put those two just as powerless as the humans. Can you talk about that?

David Lapham: As we saw in UNCANNY X-FORCE #19.1, most of the X-Men have been wiped out and Jean and Sabretooth survived but are depowered. In other words they’re human along with out X-Terminated characters. The advantage of our human characters though is they’ve always been what they are. They’ve spent their lives honing and shaping themselves into perfect fighting machines. Jean and Sabretooth have to relearn everything from the ground up as they realize just how much they’ve relied on their powers. In some ways we’ll learn about just how our humans came to be through the process Jean goes through to fit in with this group. Basically, she’s going from being potentially the most powerful being in the universe to relearning basic self-defense. At the same time these are lynchpin characters. Again, especially Jean, who, remember is Weapon Omega’s wife, and the one character he can’t ignore, which may prove beneficial to Prophet and his plans. 

Marvel.com: As you said, the AGE OF APOCALYPSE version of Wolverine calls himself Weapon Omega and sits as the main villain of this piece. What does he bring to the table?

David Lapham: This is a character Rick Remender really developed and created from what he was doing in UNCANNY X-FORCE. The Apocalypse Force has taken him over and he’s the overlord of this world. At this point, with humanity extinct or near extinct, he’s moved beyond just being a destroyer of humanity. His whole purpose was following the perceived directive of the Celestials to move beyond humanity and allow mutants to continue the evolutionary process, to weed out the weak and grow stronger and stronger as a race of beings. His main concern now is shaping mutantkind and to that end he still lives by Apocalypse’s old standard of the strong surviving. 

AGE OF APOCALYPSE #2 cover by Humberto Ramos

Marvel.com: One of the themes of this book becomes how the heroes in this universe work as mirror versions of some of the most well known mutant-hating villains of the standard Marvel Universe. Can you tell us about this conceit and how it developed?

David Lapham: This was in the original pitch/outline from editor Jody LeHeup. He came up with the concept of flipping the script on the regular Marvel Universe dynamic. Initially we thought they might be the sons and daughters of those guys, but then, why not let it actually be those guys. The thought being this is a new world where history has developed differently. The Age of Apocalypse Universe exists solely because Professor X was killed and that changed the way countless people, mutants, and events developed. These human villains had the same thing happen to them. Many were unique individuals with qualities that made them destined to be leaders, or skilled scientists, or killers. But their environment was different, their experiences were different. So they became different people. They have their crosses to bear for sure, but it’s not a case of them being monsters we’re forced to root for just because they’re the underdog. 

Marvel.com: With villains becoming heroes, can readers expect the inverse of that be true as well? Will we see many characters we traditionally know as heroes as villains in the AGE OF APOCALYPSE title?

David Lapham: Absolutely. Much of that is drawn from the original Age of Apocalypse though. There we saw many heroes working for Apocalypse. Another aspect though that we’re going to bring in is that grey area between good and evil. In creating this world where mutants have taken over, we’re not just concentrating on the big war like the original series. In a war you can draw that line of good guys and bad guys. Here the mutants have won; the humans are rebels, sure, but the world is dominated by the mutants who have to go about creating their world in whatever image they want. And they don’t all want the same things. Apocalypse’s creed of the strong surviving begins anew for them as there are many different viewpoints from different mutants on how the future should be approached, and some might be more beneficial to the plight of the humans than others...or not. 

The X-Terminated by Roberto De La Torre

Marvel.com: As an artist yourself, what's it like working with someone like Roberto De La Torre to bring your scripts to life?

David Lapham: Being an artist really helps my writing more than it is part of the art process. I can see what I want on the page and the sequence of shots I call for. The great thing about working with another artist is that you know they see things differently, so I already know that the sequence is going to look different than I pictured when I wrote it. That’s always exciting and the only problem I ever have is if somehow the story isn’t being told. Some artists, though, send you back pages that are so good, you look at them and wonder if you really wrote them. David Aja is like that, and Rob’s one of those guys, too. His art is just crazy. He adds so much to the story with the way he brings a page to life. He’s added so much detail and mood and reality to the series. I don’t know many other artists who could pull off what he’s done, which is create a credible and real world right from the start. Add to that his wicked character designs and the action sequences have such an incredible flow. I get pages in and my jaw just drops at some of the dynamic angles he pulls off. He’s a superstar for sure. So what’s it like working with him: Gratitude. Lots and lots of gratitude.

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This looks really promising. Looking forward to it!